The Pain of High Achievers - Kimberly Thompson

            You’ve finally arrived in your professional life, and you hold the highest rank in your chosen field. You’re a CEO, a physician, an attorney, a psychologist, or a Ph.D. This is what you have been working toward for years and maybe your whole life. Once the diplomas have been framed and hung on the wall, the tenure-track position obtained, the board exams aced, or the coveted office moved into, you might be surprised to find yourself asking, “Now what?” You may find yourself feeling bored, anxious, depressed, or depleted now that you have actually crossed the finish line.

      High achievers have unique pain to deal with, and that is particularly true for women. In order to push to the finish line, some women have delayed marriage or childbearing only to find that suitable partners are scarce and that infertility has set in. Others are marrying and having children, only to discover that achieving a work-life balance is more of a theory than a real thing. When it comes to gender equality, academia and corporations may be further along on paper than they are in real life. To top it all off, that clear set of expectations that was a part of completing the training or part of climbing the ladder – it’s gone.

            I have put together a list of things that high-achieving women can do to cope with what I call “post-graduate disorientation,” which is the polar opposite of freshman orientation – the rules are yanked away and you get thrown out into the professional world.

            1. Trust your training. My brother-in-law was a career Air Force officer, and for awhile was literally one of the people with his finger on the nuclear button. Once I asked him how he kept from second-guessing himself when faced with such an awe-inspiring responsibility. His response was simple, “I trust my training.” You can do the same. Trust the collective wisdom that put you where you are.

            2. Have a plan for managing stress. Map it out. At least every three months, put a long weekend on the calendar and make reservations to get out of town.  At least once a year, take a longer break. Sit down with your planner and squeeze your schedule until you have time for these things in writing: regular exercise, adequate rest and sleep, family bonding, peer friendships, and self-development. Self-development means things like reading for pleasure, practicing a craft or hobby, or pursuing an interest that has nothing to do with work.

            3. Get a financial advisor. You may not be used to having much money, but now professional financial advice is a must. Nothing puts the squeeze on us like disorganized finances, so get the help you need right at the start.

            4. Create your own team. Your team is made up of people whose job is to keep you in the best shape possible. This includes a physician and dentist, and in my opinion should also include a therapist. Other team members could be a physical trainer, a massage therapist, a nanny, and a housekeeper. Get out of the student mindset that says, “I can’t afford that.” That financial advisor (#3) that you have hired can help you crunch the numbers to decide how often you can actually afford self-care services.

            5. Get up before you need to. Go to bed before you need to. Bookend the day with leisurely rituals that replenish your soul. If you have small children, getting up in time to have a cup of coffee on the terrace can make all the difference. Likewise, a nightly wind-down ritual can help you get the deep sleep your body requires.

            6. Make plans, but hold them loosely. There’s an old saying, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” You need to have a general idea of what your next goal is, but steer away from tunnel vision. You don’t want to miss great opportunities that pop up unexpectedly.

       Your final task is to just get used to the new normal. Whether it feels terrific or terrifying, boring or bold, this is your life now. It takes time to adjust. Be nice to yourself in the meantime.


     I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Lubbock, Texas. I work with mothers and their children to help them heal, grow, and live their most vibrant lives. My particular expertise is pregnant and postpartum women, and moms of “littles.” My book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, is available on Amazon and from Praeclarus Press. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, you can work with me face-to-face; if you live anywhere else in the state of Texas, you can work with me via online therapy. Send me a message if you need more information, or call my office at (806) 224-0200 if you’re ready to book an appointment.